B: I’ve heard it said that the last five minutes of a date are always the most important, since that’s when the “physical action” happens, upon which the “grade” of the date depends. I also recall seeing a movie wherein a girl, in discussing the previous night’s date, reflected that same shortsighted attitude by summing the date up in the action that her escort took at the end, mocking him for giving her a mere handshake, as if he wasn’t “man enough” to give her a kiss, or whatever it is the world might expect or demand.
A: Heh! What a colossal wimp.
B: The above two examples, and your reaction to the latter, indicate that many are preoccupied with some fairly superficial things on dates. Prevalent is the thought about what these love interests – who are people, remember – can do for us, almost as though we think of them as some sort of pleasure machine, with various buttons to push, and if we push them in the right order, we’ll get what we want out of “it.” This thought may summarize one’s attitude toward a date: “never mind what happened the previous several hours that we were together, when we were communicating and relating with each other in a more substantial sense – all I care about is the ‘grade’ I’m getting; I just want to get to the action at the end!”
Of course, a real (marriage) relationship focuses primarily on how we interact with each other, what we can do for each other, and how we can serve each other and our future children – indeed, this constitutes the vast majority of the relationship. The glittering little mystery called “romance” may be only a small (and perhaps not even necessary) portion of a healthy marriage; if a marriage was built solely upon romance, it wouldn’t last, except possibly in the nominal sense only.
A: And how would you have others behave on a date, Mr. Squeamish? Like a prude, I suppose? Would you have us re-adopt Victorian customs?
B: First of all, just because I don’t like the way some things trend, doesn’t mean I advocate the direction completely opposite. Second, it’s not my intention to talk about dating right now; I want to focus on this business of people treating other people like objects, which is certainly not restricted to the dating scene.
Let’s think of some other examples. You walk down the street, passing scores of people you don’t know. To you, they may as well be obstacles in or around your path. You buy groceries, and who is the cash register? Or rather, what? Just the “thing” with which you exchange your money for some of the store’s wares. Your barber? The thing that you use to get your hair cut. Your boss? Every so often you get money out of there. Your coworkers? The tools that you use sometimes, if you must, to get that money.
A: I think that’s an unduly pessimistic way of looking at life.
B: Of course it is, which is partly my point. We know that all these “things” are actually people, each of whom have their own worries, hopes, goals, families, and so on. How would it be, though, if we were to always think of them as mere tools to help us get along in our own lives? Do we ever? It seems to me that we do, and far too often.
A: What am I supposed to do, stop everybody who passes by and ask them how their day is going?
B: Of course not, but it may help to at least remember that each person is exactly that, a person, and has cares and concerns just as you have.
A: There’s too many people for me to do even that.
B: Just do what you can.
A: Whatever, buddy.
B: The reason this is so important is because of its potential to help us keep God’s #2 commandment, loving others. To see this, consider the extreme example of slavery. The obvious reason slavery is such an awful thing is that it takes people’s agency away. But another reason is because slaves are generally treated as cattle, or even as machines – that is, as objects.
Slavery is, of course, a form of hatred, which is about the worst thing we can have, if love is the best thing. But the hatred inherent within slavery is not necessarily found only in the removal of agency. For instance, a policeman doesn’t have to hate the person he’s arresting, even though he’s removing some of his agency. At least a portion of the hatred in slavery is founded in the view of the slave as an object, or as someone, or even something, less than what the slave actually is: a person, beloved by God just as much as any other person is. One must have some degree of enmity, however small though it may be, toward another, to realize the spiteful view objectification gives of the other’s perceived inferiority.
We therefore are, when we think of people as objects, practicing a form of hatred. It may seem a harsh comparison, and indeed it is clearly a lesser form of hatred than enslavement. But if it wouldn’t be hatred, it would have to be a form of love, and thinking of a person as less than what he is – as less than a person – cannot be honestly called love.
But I don’t mean to paint us as hopelessly evil creatures. It’s not as if I think of us as cruelly hating on every person we pass by on the street. On the contrary, I believe in the goodness of humanity; most people fear God, respect their fellow men, and are sympathetic to each other’s needs, knowing that they are likely very similar to their own. Most of us would drop anything to help if we saw a complete stranger in trouble. We aren’t perfect people, of course, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to be so. This habit of occasionally objectifying others is simply another in a long list of blemishes that we could and should work with patience to eventually eliminate, if we intend to be as happy as God knows we can be, both as individuals and as society in general. Let’s start by remembering that people are people, nothing less – and perhaps potentially a great deal more. When we do, we may find it so much easier to love others, begetting a more universal love, and paving the way for a more peaceful, unified society.